All the Pretty Faces
June 19, 2007
When I think of portraits, I don't visualize the standard, studio shot of a family or a high school grad or
even a scion of the business world. I think in stock pictures, so I see an image of a person or animal or an illustrated
character that looks like he/she/it is asking me to buy something. The portrait is probably the single most popular image
in stock photography used for marketing, promotions and advertising.
For these spokesperson or testimonial portraits,
the face needs to have a strong expression that can evoke a message. The character may be looking directly at the
camera or perhaps gazing off into the distance as she/he (it) contemplates something they are extremely pleased about
or in an editorial context, something the article wants you to consider.
At thumbnail size, full frame faces have a huge impact. See the shot of the gorilla here. But also
remember that tight crops limit the use of the image. Try to strike a balance when shooting portraits between tightly cropped
images that provide maximum impact at thumbnail size and those images that leave space for copy. Or use a long
lens focusing on the facial features and position the face to one side of a horizontal frame. The background will drop out, leaving a nice
place to overlay copy. The portrait-cropping dilemma was complicated over the past five or so years by a stylistic demand. How many portraits
are there now that only show half a face? The style of cropping a face right down the middle had visual impact although now it is overdone.
And while chasing that style, we forgot that the usage of the image could be limited by radical cropping.
In the most effective testimonial images, the image should "speak" to the viewer. You should be able to almost
write the words that the person or animal is saying. They want you to listen up!
Since you want the model to relate to the person
looking at the image, it's important that they relate to you, the photographer. Chat up the person. Get them talking about
themselves as a sure way to get genuine emotions and relaxed features. Distract the object of the portrait from the realization that
their photo is being taken. This applies to animals too. Otherwise unlike most people, they will simply run away.
Take care when using the keyword "portrait". Don't identify an image as a portrait when it isn't.
It's very frustrating to search on "portrait" when some of the returned images are silhouettes of figures far in the distance.
Remember a testimonial portrait should be primarily facial features.
You can take lessons from the great portrait photographers. Study the work of Yousuf Karsh, Philippe
Halsman, Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz. These are masters in the art of capturing the personality of their
subjects. And the subjects are generally very famous. Your task is to allow the personality of a non-celebrity model to emerge
from your images so that they become a believable spokesperson for a variety of products. You can place them in an environment
that alludes to a special career or endeavor but that will limit the usage to only that subject.
Spend time with the model before you pick up the camera.
Build trust and camaraderie
between you and your subject.
Images of women sell more often than those of male models but then pretty
women are the most photographed subjects so branch out, creating portraits of children, older generations, and a variety of